Friday, November 21, 2014
Charles Taylor is rightly regarded as one of the great philosophers of the age, Catholic (as he happens to be) or not. I much admired his 1992 tome Sources of the Self and regard some of his earlier papers as essential contributions to contemporary political and social theory (see, eg, the paper "Atomism" in volume 2 of his Philosophical Papers). But I found his widely renowned and commented upon A Secular Age (2009) frustratingly diffuse. I also had a hunch that the cultural diagnosis (and remedy) of my former teacher Alasdair MacIntyre was more acute but couldn't quite put my finger on the differences between Taylor and MacIntyre. Along comes my friend Matthew Rose with this splendid essay at First Things on Taylor. Here is an excerpt from Rose's conclusion, but read the whole thing to appreciate the range of his deep and critical engagement with Taylor:
The failure here is not that Taylor sets aside the authority of dogma and discourages us from entering more deeply into the wisdom of the Christian past. That’s something we’re all familiar with, not just in our secular culture that can do without the Church’s teaching, thank you, but in our own thinking as well. Taylor rightly describes our experience of modern faith as riven with contingency. Those committed to the Church have lots of interior ways to set aside the authority of dogma, even as we affirm it.
No, the failure is much greater and potentially more debilitating. By assimilating a secular way of believing with the essential content of Christian faith, A Secular Age sanctifies and makes absolute precisely what we should regard as contingent—the age in which we live. This is not to say that much of what Taylor writes about the ways secularity has altered our culture and our sense of self is wrong and should not shape academic debates. His descriptions of the secular age are compelling and deserve the wide discussion they have inspired.
But if it is true that we have reached the end of an era and now live in a secular age, it will be even more important for Christians to know what has been lost and why. This Taylor will not and perhaps cannot teach us. Instead, he makes secularism invincible to the radical criticism it most needs. Like all Hegelians, Taylor is an apologist for the present, a theologian of the secular status quo.
Alasdair MacIntyre also diagnosed our culture as fatigued by the mutual antagonisms of rival traditions. MacIntyre, however, maintained a chastened confidence in the power of human reason to guide us toward the perfected understanding that is the end of all inquiry. Our confusions and disagreements, he wrote in his Gifford Lectures, “can be a prologue not only to rational debate, but to that kind of debate from which one party can emerge as undoubtedly rationally superior.”
MacIntyre combated the prejudice, uncritically affirmed by Taylor, that secular modernity is a historical dispensation from which there is no intellectual escape. He called his work a “radical renovation” of classical traditions of thought. Its most important consequence has been a growing confidence that the work of human reason can be undertaken in a context broader than that of modernity.
We would do well to listen to Taylor, but apprentice ourselves to MacIntyre. For Christians in a post-Christian culture will need to think in terms of the most expansive of all temporal horizons—a time, bounded by the beginning and the end of God’s holy purposes, that Augustine, writing at the end of another epoch, called the saeculum.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
I am late posting about this, but the recent conference at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, "Your Light Will Rise in the Darkness: Responding to the Cry of the Poor," was a superb event that reflected the best thinking from a range of disciplines on the issue of poverty. The keynote addresses by Nobel Laureate James Hickman, Alasdair MacIntyre, John Finnis, and Gerhard Cardinal Müller were rich in insights from economics, philosophy, and theology, as were the breakout sessions. I can do no better than this summary from James Mumford (University of Virginia Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture). A bit from Mumford's conclusion:
One lasting impression of Notre Dame’s “Your Light Will Rise” conference was the way that Catholic social teaching—from Leo XIII’s famous encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) onwards—defies the left-right axis. Thus, in interview Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, could on one hand speak of the necessity of “facing head-on the effects of a system that places profit at its center,” while on the other emphasizing that Pope Francis’s conception of poverty “[goes well] beyond a merely economic conception of poverty.” For his part, Patrick Deneen, the political thinker who shone in the debate that closed the conference, came at capitalism from a conservative standpoint, lamenting, among other things the loss of tradition and the anonymity of markets.
This defiance of the left-right axis, so clearly on view in Notre Dame last week, suggests not only why Catholic social thought has so much further to run. It also suggests why, given how fed up a growing part of the electorate is with the level of political polarization, Catholic social thought should be increasingly heard.
Monday, November 3, 2014
My friend and colleague (as we are wont to say) Anna Bonta Moreland of Villanova (forgive the boasting of a proud husband) recently delivered a lecture at the University of Chicago's Lumen Christi Institute on "Interpreting Pope Francis: Evangelization and the Family" (available here) and a lunchtime talk "A Guide to the Thought of Pope Francis" (available here).
Villanova University will present its third annual Civitas Dei Medal to Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, this Wednesday, November 5 at 4:30pm in the Driscoll Hall Auditorium. Professor Glendon will deliver a lecture on "Religious Freedom in a Secular Age," and the University President, Father Peter Donohue, OSA will confer the award. The previous recipients of the Civitas Dei Medal are Alasdair MacIntyre (2012) and John Noonan (2013). Details here.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
I recently taught Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, the famous 1969 student speech case in which the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects the right of high school and junior high students to wear black armbands at school to protest the Vietnam War. There’s an odd reliance on precedent in a crucial passage of Tinker, though. Justice Fortas writes:
First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.
The authority for this sweeping characterization of half a century of student free speech rights? In the next sentence, Justice Fortas cites Meyer v. Nebraska (and its companion case, Bartels v. Iowa), the 1923 case striking down a state statute prohibiting foreign language instruction (a legacy of anti-German prejudice amid World War I) on the grounds that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the liberty of parents and teachers. (In dissent, Justice Black—ordinarily a free speech absolutist, but not for students—rejects Meyer as a vestige of Lochnerism.) The more obvious (but more recent) cite for student free speech, West Virginia v. Barnette (1943), is part of a string citation later in the paragraph and is discussed more fully in the next paragraph.
I suppose this is as an effort by the Court in Tinker to claim a longer historical precedent for recognizing student free speech, but it’s also an interesting re-reading of Meyer itself, albeit one that engages in rank anachronism and revisionism. Meyer was decided roughly a couple decades before incorporation of the First Amendment against the states, so the Court in Tinker (post-incorporation) is implausibly turning Meyer into a speech case (Justice McReynolds’s opinion in Meyer never refers to the First Amendment or to freedom of speech). And while those discomfited by Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process might like to save Meyer (and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, decided a couple years later) now by turning them into free speech cases, there’s something cavalier about Justice Fortas’s anachronistic treatment of Meyer. And then there’s the fact that the defendant in Meyer was a German language teacher (not the student), and Justice McReynolds refers throughout to the rights of teachers and parents but only once to any “rights” of students (the statute “interferes…with the opportunities of pupils to acquire knowledge”).
A final note about the political currents underlying these cases. Tinker and Meyer are surely the most famous constitutional cases to come out of Iowa and Nebraska, and they reflect the two neighboring states’ different political climates. Tinker recognizes the rights of anti-war protesting students in Des Moines, Meyer recognizes the rights of traditional German-American communities in rural central Nebraska to be free of conformist state interference. Iowa is slightly more urban (relatively speaking for the Midwest) and Nebraska more rural (Iowa has nine non-suburban cities with over 50,000 people, Nebraska only three—and Grand Island only barely), reflecting the urban-rural difference between the claimants in Tinker and Meyer. Iowa has historically had more Anabaptists (there are large Amish and Mennonite communities around the Amana Colonies, for example) and liberal Protestants, including the father of the Tinker children (a Methodist minister and American Friends Service Committee member). Late ninteteenth- and early-twentieth century Nebraska had an influx of German (like the defendant in Meyer) and Eastern European Lutherans and Catholics, historically more conservative groups. And so in next week’s US Senate elections, while Ben Sasse coasts to election as a conservative Republican in Nebraska, next door in Iowa another conservative Republican, Joni Ernst—while slightly favored to win—is in a much closer race. It’s all there in the rich history of Tinker and Meyer.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
The Liberty Law Talk podcasts hosted by Richard Reinsch are a wonderful resource (if you have an iPhone, you can subscribe via Apple’s podcasts app). A recent conversation with Roger Scruton was especially interesting and included the following--and typically insightful--comment from Scruton (transcribed from the recording beginning at 15:30):
I think my position is that you can’t detach what we are now from the history of our civilization, and the very fact that we have all these really remarkable ways of dealing with social conflict like the legal process, democratic process, and so on. The fact that we have those things is not to be understood as some kind of a priori invention. These are the byproducts of a civilization which was founded on something else. It was founded on a sacramental vision of what brings people together and the church has always exerted this control over people’s lives to remind them of this. It doesn’t do so anymore, of course, because we in many ways are in a post-Christian society but it...the Catholic Church made penitence into a sacrament and made the whole business of confession, accepting guilt, atoning for your faults, and begging for forgiveness--it made that into the fundamental religious experience, more fundamental than any other, and that worked its way into the legal system and the political system of the European states. You can certainly find it there in the law of tort in English common law and you can find it in everything until recently. I think we should always remember that we are downstream from this great spiritual inheritance.
Monday, October 27, 2014
Villanova hosted a noteworthy symposium recently on one of last term's major free speech cases, McCullen v. Coakley. Video of the event is available here, with remarks from Eleanor McCullen (lead plaintiff), Mark Rienzi (CUA and also Mrs. McCullen's counsel), Greg Magarian (Washington University-St. Louis), Carrie Severino (Judicial Crisis Network), and Kevin Walsh (Richmond). In addition to the significance of hearing directly from the plaintiff in such a case (as John Noonan long ago observed, we are apt to neglect the experience of actual, living persons behind a major case), the symposium was a rich conversation among participants who all (like the justices on the Court) basically agreed on the outcome of the case but for different reasons (and with different assessments of McCullen's long-term importance to such areas as public forum doctrine and content-neutrality analysis).
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
The annual fall conference of the Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame is a jewel in the crown of Catholic higher education. This year's conference topic, inspired by Pope Francis, is "Your Light Will Rise in the Darkness: Responding to the Cry of the Poor." Plenary addresses will be given by Nobel Laureate James Heckman (Chicago), Cardinal Gerhard Müller (Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), Alasdair MacIntyre (Notre Dame), and John Finnis (Notre Dame and Oxford). A concluding colloquy on whether Catholic social teaching and American capitalism are compatible will include Patrick Deneen, Hadley Arkes, James Mumford, and John Tomasi. A detailed schedule is available here.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
One of the recurring questions here at MOJ and across the Catholic blogosphere is whether and to what extent Catholicism and American liberal democracy can happily co-exist ("the viability of the John Courtney Murray project" in shorthand). This essay at National Affairs by Peter Augustine Lawler and Richard Reinsch is a rich (and very well-written) reflection on that question by way of an engagement with the thought of Orestes Brownson, the still-unduly-neglected nineteenth century American Catholic thinker. As Lawler and Reinsch note at the outset of the piece:
Some of our most familiar political and intellectual categories, adapted to suit 20th-century debates, now cause us to fall into a simpleminded individualism that we cannot really believe. Too many conservatives, for instance, persist in the tired distinction between individual freedom and collectivism. That unrealistic bifurcation helped discredit the communist or fascist reduction of the particular person to nothing but an expendable cog in a machine, plugging away in pursuit of some glorious paradise to come at the end of History. But today that distinction too often ends up placing in the same repulsive category any understanding of the person as a relational part of a larger whole — of a country, family, church, or even nature. It thus causes conservatives to dismiss what students of humanity from Aristotle to today's evolutionary psychologists know to be true: that we social animals are "hardwired" by instinct to find meaning in serving personal causes greater than ourselves, and that reconciling freedom with personal significance is only possible in a relational context that is less about rights than about duties.
Read the whole thing to see how Lawler and Reinsch think Brownson helps us move past such individualism, but here is a bit from a later part of the essay:
The American, constitutional mean between abstract universalism and tribal secessionism, according to Brownson, is a limited political unity of citizens who know they are also more than and less than citizens. All of us equally are shaped by natural, personal imperatives having to do with flourishing as material, political, and spiritual beings. When we forget any of the three, we fall into trouble. The material being is concerned with the personal subsistence of himself and his family. The political being is concerned with the common good shared by citizens in a "territorial democracy" in a particular part of the world. The spiritual being is concerned with discovering his relational duties to his loving personal Creator and sharing that personal news with his fellow creatures through the church.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
For those in the Philadelphia area or nearby, Villanova Law will be hosting a symposium on Friday, October 17 at 1:30pm in Law School Room 101 on the US Supreme Court’s decision last term in McCullen v. Coakley, unanimously striking down on First Amendment grounds a Massachusetts abortion clinic buffer zone statute. The lead plaintiff in the case, Eleanor McCullen, will participate and will be in attendance along with her husband, Joseph T. McCullen, Jr., a Villanova alumnus and benefactor. Also participating will be the attorney who represented Mrs. McCullen before the Supreme Court. Confirmed participants include:
Gregory P. Magarian
Professor of Law, Washington University School of Law
Professor Gregory Magarian is an expert in free speech, the law of politics, and law and religion. Before joining the law faculty at Washington University, he was on the faculty of Villanova University School of Law from 1999 to 2008. He has written about a variety of topics in constitutional law, including free speech theory and doctrine, media regulation, regulation of political parties, the relationship between church and state, and substantive due process. As part of an ABA project, he led a team of faculty examining the work of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during the nomination process. Before becoming a law professor, he clerked for US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, as well as for Judge Louis Oberdorfer of the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Professor Magarian also practiced law for five years with the Washington, DC firm of Jenner & Block. He earned his BA from Yale University and his JD and MPP from the University of Michigan.
Mark L. Rienzi
Counsel for Eleanor McCullen, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Associate Professor of Law, The Catholic University of America
Professor Mark Rienzi's litigation and research interests focus on the First and Fourteenth Amendments, with an emphasis on free speech and the free exercise of religion. As Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (a non-profit, non-partisan religious liberties law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious faiths), Professor Rienzi is counsel in several challenges to the HHS Mandate. Prior to joining CUA, Professor Rienzi served as counsel in the Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group at Wilmer Hale LLP in Washington, DC. Prior to joining Wilmer Hale, he served as law clerk to the Hon. Stephen F. Williams, senior circuit judge for the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. He earned his JD from Harvard Law School and BA from Princeton University.
Chief Counsel and Policy Director, Judicial Crisis Network
As chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, Carrie Severino has testified before Congress on assorted constitutional issues and briefed Senators on judicial nominations. Mrs. Severino has been extensively quoted in the media and regularly appeared on television, including MSNBC, FOX, CNN, C-SPAN and ABC’s This Week. She has written and spoken on a wide range of judicial issues, particularly the constitutional limits on government, the federal nomination process, and state judicial selection. Mrs. Severino regularly files briefs in high-profile Supreme Court cases. In the 2013 term those cases included Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, McCullen v. Coakley, and Schuette v. BAMN. Until March 2010, Mrs. Severino was an Olin/Searle Fellow and a Dean's Visiting Scholar at Georgetown University Law Center. She was previously a law clerk to US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and to Judge David B. Sentelle of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. She received a BS from Duke University, an MA in Linguistics from Michigan State University, and a JD from Harvard Law School.
Kevin C. Walsh
Associate Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law
Professor Kevin Walsh teaches and writes in the areas of federal jurisdiction and constitutional law. His scholarship focuses on doctrines that define the scope of federal judicial power, and has appeared in the Stanford Law Review, New York University Law Review, and Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly. Prior to joining the Richmond Law faculty in 2009, Professor Walsh was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Villanova University School of Law. He earned his AB from Dartmouth College, his MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame, and his JD from Harvard Law School. He clerked for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court of the United States and for Judge Paul V. Niemeyer of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.